Social Media Detox 2

August 21, 2020 at 8:46 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

Getting off Facebook again, and for the most part Twitter (I might use it to post links to blog posts if I have anything to share), at least until the election.

I’ve pretty much concluded that the fragile feel-good illusions about the Democratic party and ticket that they have, against all odds, managed to recreate (quite a feat, I have to hand it to them) are all that can just barely save the country and give it a last chance to make good. At full enough flood, that nostalgic resurgence of willfully innocent Kennedy-era idealism might be able to float the country an inch or two over the horrific threshold facing us. Since I recognize that but can’t join in the inspiration (though I feel its pull) or the cheerleading, I’ve decided to stay out of it. So fragile is that gossamer feeling that some of my friends freak out if I express any realism; others are so cynical they seem to think we need another Trump term to trigger revolution, a privileged, romantic idea if I ever heard one. Some other time I’ll post about why I think a revolution is a bad thing to wish for. (Teaser: Revolution was brought to Romania by the Red Army. Romania’s simmering Communist Party seized its chance. The rich were expropriated and set to the lowest manual labor. Yay! Revenge! Some very bright peasants’ and shepherds’ kids got to go to medical school. Yay! Opportunity! As soon as they became full-fledged doctors, they escaped the country any way they could and came to America, where they could make some money and have a nice house, car, and lifestyle. They listened to Rush Limbaugh and now they are all fulminating right-wingers.) Reform is unromantic, but if it’s serious enough (big if), it can actually improve people’s lives, rather than destroying them to save them.

Anyway, I’ll copy some disorganized thoughts I wrote in my journal this morning.

We have to be saved from the abyss if at all possible, and it’s the naïve enthusiasm of the simple (white liberal) folk that will do it. Black people spotted this early on, and it’s why they wisely pushed Joe Biden to the fore. He’s perceived as safe and kindhearted enough for a wide spectrum of frightened constituencies to accept—from the masses of voters to the dollars of donors—and so he, or his handlers, could just barely hold this improbable coalition, with the tensile strength of Jell-o, together just long enough to squeak through the door. Okay, so it’s the same old coalition of the comfortable-enough to be complaisant while the plutocrats fleece us. The difference is that the voters now want to shoehorn the diverse new America into the crude fairness and opportunity of the old (pre-Reagan) America. It was pretty good for them, and they’ve belatedly realized that it wasn’t for everybody. It’s all necessary to survive and to inch forward another half-millimeter toward such justice as glorified chimpanzees are capable of.

The rich must realize they are rich on sufferance, that the only way to enjoy their wealth in peace, without becoming murderers to avoid being murdered, is not to leave the rest of the community behind. To recognize that they are still part of humanity, with reciprocal bonds and obligations, not untrammeled demigods. They have to earn the right to enjoy their wealth in peace, and they can’t be trusted to do it voluntarily. They have to be required to pay the rest of us to grant them that limited license.

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Twitter vs. Facebook

March 11, 2020 at 6:53 pm (By Amba) ()

I’ve written about the contrast before—I think I said “Facebook is a place, Twitter is a stream”—and had plenty to say about Facebook, both bad and good. But I did what I said I wouldn’t do—swapped one social medium for another—and now I know Twitter better than I did then. Way too better. Thanks to my grim fixation on political and (actual) viral news, as I fell asleep this morning Twitter graphics danced in front of my eyes. Time to take a break. (Wanna bet?)

This is my sadder-but-no-wiser take on it, from my journal.

Twitter is addictive in a different way than Facebook. It’s like having your finger on the hot pulse of the hyperventilating culture—what others are thinking, talking, and obsessing about RIGHT NOW. NOW. NOW. It’s very, very, very up-to-the-moment. You can ignore most of the crap (or, conversely, stare at it in incredulous horror) and pan its fast-flowing stream for nuggets of urgent information, breaking news, meaning-making, and wit. Everything is rushed there hot off the . . . anvil of the instant. Reality strikes its blow, and a tweet is coined, or a shower of them. “The presses” are cold by comparison, ordinary news media often scrambling to bring up the rear.

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The social media Rapture.

January 19, 2020 at 10:24 am (By Amba) ()

Even just cutting back on social media is like being one of those people in the Left Behind novels, wandering around in an empty world from which most people have been Raptured.

(And the Antichrist is taking over.)

(The two phenomena are related.)

Trying to fill and restructure a life “outside” these rushing pipelines, these lighted underground fiber optic subway tunnels where all the life has gone, will be a weird, pointless-seeming project. It will take a long time to work out. It will often feel quixotic, hermitic, and as I’ve said before, “vain” in both senses. Who am I not to participate? Who am I to try to gather passing thoughts instead of throwing them away like a seeding dandelion? This is a post-individual age. Outside the hive mind, you quickly start to petrify into a fossil. You have refused to evolve. You’re still lumbering around like the last Bigfoot when everyone else has shucked off their matter and transubstantiated to electrons. Come on in, the plasma’s fine!

Maybe it will be better out here, but there aren’t a lot of people to play with.

Maybe they all go on cruises just to have company. A nostalgic floating village for a week. Good timing.

Maybe I’ll actually remember how to form an intention and carry it out.

UPDATE: A conversation about this on . . . wait for it . . . social media! (Twitter)

Old blogfriend*: Terrible metaphor! Social media isn’t heaven. And you forget the tradition of thinkers isolating themselves from the masses, the “world”. Gurus on mountaintops, saints on pillars, communities in deserts, salons, societies of letters, schools in gardens….

Me: It’s only half a metaphor. It’s not that social media is heaven, it’s what earth is like when you’re Left Behind.

Yes, maybe using the word “hermitic” was not an accident. [At this point I realized he probably had not come here, just read the Twitter abbreviation.]

Old blogfriend: It’s your very own Walden Pond. Enjoy!

Me: Thank you for giving me a GOOD metaphor! ❤️

Maybe I’ll rename my blog Walden Three. :)

*Not identifying him because I haven’t gone through the laborious process of getting permission.

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The Difference between Twitter and Facebook is …

January 12, 2020 at 12:27 pm (By Amba) ()

I can use Twitter without feeling like it’s using me.

Tell me if I’m being naïve.

Twitter can be vicious but since almost nobody reads me there, I can (so far) sound off without being trolled. I only get gently twitted by a few conservative friends.

Anyway, Facebook is space and Twitter is time. Facebook is a place where things sit and stagnate, waiting for attention. Twitter is a fast-moving, unsentimental stream that washes away whatever you say before it can attract flies. It’s the Snapchat of mental life. For posting links to blog posts and what poet Donald Hall called “String Too Short to be Saved” (a hoarder in his village actually kept a box with that label), it’s OK.

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The Good Side of Facebook

December 31, 2019 at 11:37 am (By Amba) (, )

I’ve been focusing on its insidious and evil aspects, which are real, to get myself off it. Now that that’s settled (with the proviso you’ll find at the end of this post), I’m strolling around there feeling nostalgic, getting a good look at what I’ll be missing. Anticipated distance has already given me perspective.

In an age when we are so scattered physically, it’s how we have community. It might be disembodied community, but it isn’t illusory, the word I was first going to use. Unlike the one-to-one, spoke-and-hub communications by which we otherwise maintain our long-distance connections, FB is a collective virtual space where we can have a shadow of that comfy tribal feeling we evolved with, the solidarity of many bodies nearby, sitting around the fire.

And—this may be crucial—we can have it without the inconvenience and conflict that unavoidably comes with the presence of actual people, in their bodies, with their moods, needs, neuroses . . . we can have it stripped of most of that, even stripped of a lot of its “otherness” and turned into our own mental content. (The immune system comes to mind, with its snuggling up to everything “self” and suspicious bristling at “other.”) As incorrigible humans, we still manage to get into hurts and fights on FB, we still need to work at maintaining and repairing the relationships we care about, but it’s all carried so much more lightly, those “surly bonds” are more easily slipped. We can withdraw, unfriend, or just tune out. We can “turn on” presence like a TV show when we’re in the mood for it and not have to deal with it when we’re not. It’s less substantial, but more controllable.

This is the part that’s scary to me. Some commentators have worried that our animal instincts for relating directly to others will atrophy and our cultural skills for doing so will be lost. I’m not very experienced or good at relating to people on a day-to-day basis (I started out shy and unconfident and then, for almost 40 years, for all practical purposes, related to only one), and so it’s too easy to retreat into a solitary real life populated with a virtual community where I can vamp in my avatar of words, definitely my best foot forward. Yet the things I want and need most to do (if I’m not to die feeling I haven’t lived) are the things I’m not good at and am awkward and afraid of: real writing, Feldenkrais, intimacy. If I’m getting enough pseudo-hits on FB I may never get around to risking them. (I’ve got another post in the works on “the comfort zone,” how it is a needed nest to rest in but can become a comfortable coffin to dream in.)

But this was supposed to be a post on what’s GOOD about Facebook. It’s a hive mind, where we all fetch and cross-share bits of information and wit with a rapidity and richness that is impossible alone or one-to-one. This may be the wave of the future. Participating in such a hive mind, with such good other minds as you guys, is a privilege, a chance to make a small, often unsigned contribution to creating the world and the future. To retreat into 19th-century “Individuality” and try to create alone, with a byline, feels regressive and vain. It may call on my capacities more deeply, which will be privately satisfying, like a good workout, but the results are also likely to lie uselessly off to the side of the real conversation.

All that considered, I’ve decided to deactivate my FB account—for a contractual year—before I decide whether to delete it. Maybe after a year in solitary I’ll be fit for a better balance. I love you guys. Hope to see some of you in “the real world.”

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Welcome, intrepid Facebook friends.

December 28, 2019 at 11:08 pm (By Amba) (, , )


I have low expectations that anyone will show up, and no idea, at this point, how enticing I’ll make it.

But, less often and with a higher bar than on Facebook—because more effort is involved than just hitting “share”—I’ll still post links and photos, write thoughts and commentary, share music and other videos, anything that clears that higher bar. I may find stuff you in turn would like to share further. And if you send me something irresistible (most of you know how to reach me), I may post or link to it. It’s “slo-mo, remote Facebook.” It’s how we lived before there was Facebook.

(Just in case anyone shows up, I’ll try to shape up and write as clearly as I sometimes managed to do on Facebook. I don’t always bother when I’m just talking to myself.)

I have several neglected blogs—Purr View, for cat stuff; Cloven Not Crested, about women; A Cold Eye, a dark-themed scienceblog; The Compulsive Copyeditor for word nerds—but YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW THIS. This main blog, Ambiance, will be the bulletin board (as well as the place for anything personal, political, musical, or hysterical), and I’ll post notifications and links on this blog if and when I post on any of the others.

I’m told there is a “Follow” box to check in the lower right corner of this blog’s homepage, and by checking that you can receive an email when I post something. (I think the email actually contains the whole post, so you won’t even have to navigate.) I’ll also see if I can put an obvious “Follow” widget in the sidebar for proper internet redundancy.

If you “follow” the blog you will also be able to comment. (If you ever wanted to write your own post[s], or just copy a FB post you like over here, that too could be arranged. Ambiance started out as a group blog.)

Or, you can just come over here now and then and see what’s new.

All this is whistling in the dark, but it will be my place to vent and to share any irresistible links, images, ideas, or laughs I come across. That was the good part of Facebook . . . that and “seeing” you guys.

BONUS: Whether you come here or not, go to Time Goes By and look at posts called “Interesting Stuff.” Ronni Bennett finds better links than most Facebookers. I’ll be sharing her finds and so can you. Here are two:

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Blogs are for Old People

February 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm (By Tim) (, , , )

This topic came up the other day on Facebook. Annie posted this, and in the run of comments, I said something like the following (edited):

Blogs have become a thing of the past for several reasons. I was made aware of one last year. I teach at a choir school, and I mentioned to the kids that I was thinking of starting a Music Appreciation blog for the school. My class broke out laughing and said in unison, “a BLOG?” launching into what sounded like a version of the “Internet Commenter Funeral” before I shut them up. One of them could even quote verbatim a blog insult he thought we both might know. At least I THINK he was. I shushed him up too quickly to have heard enough to confirm my worst suspicion. Anyway, that’s the image middle-schoolers (and my own high-school-age sons) have of blogs: Places where idiot adults go to insult one another. As one of my sons said, “Daaad, everybody hangs out on Facebook with their friends. If you really feel the need to discuss issues of the day with people you’d probably edge away from if you saw them in a crowd, there always are forums. Blogs are for old people.”

Annie then came back with two typically perceptive updates:

Young people always have to differentiate themselves from “old people,” but we always come crawling after them. Now that we too have infested Facebook, where will they go next?

The other thing about blogs is that that ecosystem has reached climax forest stage, where the big trees (such as Althouse, and you can name others) get the light before it can reach the forest floor, and seedlings languish and die unless they can get birds (tweet tweet) to carry them to new, open space.

But the thing that really got my attention was this link (via Tom Strong), wherein Josh Miller (who is,  from what I can tell, a fairly recent Princeton grad) reports on his tenth-grade sister, home in California:

View at

Something from it:

For me, Twitter is predominantly a link discovery service — admittedly, that is a simplified view, but it’s helpful for these purposes — so I followed-up on her Twitter comments by asking where she discovers links. “What do you mean?” She couldn’t even understand what I was asking. I rephrased the question: “What links do you read? What sites do they come from? What blogs?”

“I don’t read links. I don’t read blogs. I don’t know. You mean like funny videos on Facebook? Sometimes people post funny links there. But I’m not really interested in anything yet, like you are.”
She didn’t know what BuzzFeed was, and doesn’t visit fashion blogs! (Of course, the older brother thinks that would be a given.) I was floored.

Now, despite being a bona fide old person, I have a tenth-grade son, and I can categorically say he does not have the same tastes as Josh Miller’s sister. He’s an East Coast kid, and his own bona fides are as a prep school student. His internet time is limited by his need to get the grades to get a scholarship to one of the Ivies, or maybe NYU, if the musical theater thing works out for him. But he does have at least a little time to look at funny videos, link them occasionally, and be interested in things. Josh Miller’s sister is distinctly a Santa Monica kid and a flat-affect hipster by my son’s more earnest St. Grottlesex standards. Nevertheless, their online lives are similar enough to point to a future that does not resemble the past of us Old People, even those of us tech savvy enough to have spent too much of it on the internet looking for something it could not deliver. Seems the internet and the neurons of 16-year-olds are finally moving toward a future they were both meant for.

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